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June 29, 2005 5:25 PM   Subscribe

David Foster Wallace's commencement speech at Kenyon University
Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.
The author of Infinite Jest attempts to explain what is wrong with your brain's default settings.
posted by Edible Energy (26 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
that was quite good. DFW is quite an impressive guy in general. few people can get me excited to read about tennis.
posted by spiderwire at 5:37 PM on June 29, 2005

I got to admit, that was pretty good. But what's with the uber-heavy graduation speeches? Steve Jobs' speech was a bit of a bummer as well. On the other hand, I bet Bill Cosby has em rollin' in the aisles.
posted by billysumday at 5:46 PM on June 29, 2005

Jesus H. Christ, that is a marvelous speech, far more worthy of wide dissemination than that "sunscreen" claptrap of years past. Wallace - despite languagehat's scathing and dead-on indictment* - remains a masterful and amazing writer and thinker, and we are lucky to have him.

*which I printed out and re-read obsessively way way way before I became a member here.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:50 PM on June 29, 2005

Feels odd reading something by DFW without endnotes.
posted by bobo123 at 5:59 PM on June 29, 2005

Incredible. As insightful as anything I've ever read, I think. Thanks.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:02 PM on June 29, 2005

Is DFW Buddhist?
posted by bashos_frog at 6:17 PM on June 29, 2005

Days like this when I love the MeFi. Thanks for sharing.
posted by xmutex at 6:24 PM on June 29, 2005

wonderful! : >

(of course, you can't really tell anyone--especially at their own graduation--that the world doesn't revolve around them--they have to figure it out for themselves or have it beaten into them)
posted by amberglow at 6:29 PM on June 29, 2005

I love me some DFW. When I went to a book signing of his, I was initially gonna just have him sign my copy of his latest book, but then I remembered I was wearing my beloved army fatigue jacket that had been autographed by Lars Ulrich and Jason Newstead after a show at Uniondale back in '91 so I asked him to sign that, too. After seeing the huge "METALLICA," logo across the shoulder he chiseled "David Foster Wallace on Zither" in sharpie. Since then that jacket has been signed by Douglas Coupland, Tom Perrotta, Kinky Friedman, Chinga Chavin, & Ratso Sloman. Once Richard Price signs it, it will be complete. It is already the coolest jacket in the world.
posted by jonmc at 6:32 PM on June 29, 2005

Damn. Just read it again. I wish you way more than luck. We're a lucky culture to have this guy among us.
posted by xmutex at 6:44 PM on June 29, 2005

Aww, did he have to say "bullshit?" That's the second commencement speech I've seen or heard with that in it...

posted by bugmuncher at 6:58 PM on June 29, 2005

Go Lords! (and Ladies!)
posted by bardic at 7:39 PM on June 29, 2005

posted by yerfatma at 7:44 PM on June 29, 2005

Brilliant! Thanks for posting this
posted by entropy at 8:50 PM on June 29, 2005

Wow. That was amazing. Thanks, Edible Energy. V. much appreciated.
posted by shoepal at 10:42 PM on June 29, 2005

This is water.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 11:26 PM on June 29, 2005

What everyone else said. Awesome.

Almost every time, he starts with these left-field bits, like randomly plunked notes or something, and you're like, Can this guy even play that thing? And then a wee melody emerges, then another, a counter-harmony, and by the end he hits this spectacular invented-out-of-thin-air crescendo that leaves me speechless, mouth agape, truly awestruck.

Oh and bashos_frog?

Is DFW Buddhist?

He might as well be.
posted by gompa at 12:28 AM on June 30, 2005

Kenyon College.
posted by xowie at 1:05 AM on June 30, 2005

I was lucky enough to be in the front row for this one.

And yeah, it was twice as great as it sounds because you could just feel the parents/families in the audience tensing up with his use of language and life experience. A great time was had by all.

And xowie's right, we aren't quite big enough to be a uni quite yet :)
posted by somethingotherthan at 2:23 AM on June 30, 2005

The middle bit about not automatically perceiving the strangers around you as fat, dull oafs reminded me of the piece about the monkeysphere I saw on, oh, some blog or other somewhere.
posted by kcds at 4:43 AM on June 30, 2005

My first reaction to this was "Geez, I know a few people who could stand to read this." Then I realized that I'd kind of missed the point thinking that way.

Great piece.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:34 AM on June 30, 2005

That is a good speech; if I ever had to talk to a bunch of kids graduating from college I'd just read that one to them (with a tip o' the hat to DFW). Having to do without his footnotes and other stylistic tics does wonders for his writing, in my opinion.

Thanks for the kind words, Optimus Chyme. As I tried to make clear in that essay/rant, I respect the man's writing, just not his attempt to pass off his default ideas about language as Truth.
posted by languagehat at 7:55 AM on June 30, 2005

No footnotes?
posted by klangklangston at 8:21 AM on June 30, 2005

I think some of his tics are in full force in that speech though. Wallace, bless him, repeats himself all the fucking time. For instance, the water joke is from a previous work of his, and the bit about cliches having some monstrous underlying Truth is a staple of his; I think it's in "Good Old Neon" and IJ and one or more of the essays in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. He loves that one.

Now I know why.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:31 AM on June 30, 2005

Simplistic, but well done. I was expecting a bit more for a commencement address.

gompa is right on. The basic thesis: be mindful; transcend your ego; personal desire causes suffering. Buddhism 101.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:56 AM on June 30, 2005

Even though I'm finishing a degree, I don't get a commencement speech this time around. So many thanks, Edible Energy, for filtering this out of the net. Made my day.
posted by ontic at 6:52 PM on June 30, 2005

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